Apologies for the large amount of text.
First of all, I’d like to (sarcastically) thank Goodreads for forcing me to change my reviewing policy on self-published books. This new rule designed to protect author’s feelings (who shouldn’t be reading reviews anyway, if they’re going to get butthurt) is actually working against them. Cheers for that.
The biggest thing that upsets me is not the fact that they have deleted shelves without warning (which they have now apologised for, but thanks anyway, you chased some friends off your website with that stunt) but the fact that shelves are being deleted based on interpretation of content.
Goodreads encourages creativity in our reviews and as such I try to make my shelves sound interesting. Sometimes I take references from songs. Is ‘poison running through my veins’ at risk? At the moment it shelves books about assassins or poison makers because I’m especially interested in those kinds of books and think they deserve their own shelf (what? I don’t need to justify my shelf names, surely not!), but if I dedicate that shelf exclusively to notorious and documented badly behaving authors, does that mean someone’s going to look at it and interpret it as an attack on an author? That perhaps I would like the author to be poisoned?
Hey, it’s happened before. An author misinterpreted shelf names and started telling the whole Internet she was being attacked and threatened. Most people believed her. Some people actually pulled the evidence to prove it never happened. But this is the Internet, yo, and bad news travels fast. According to some, reviewers are the worst bullies in the world, cyber terrorists and criminals who deserve to go to jail.
For criticising books. Yep.
Here’s typically what happens:
- Reviewer doesn’t like the book for whatever reason and rates it one star (sometimes 2 or 3!).
- Author gets butthurt and attacks reviewer. May or may not call in fanpoodles and/or take it to social media to harass reviewer.
- Reviewer warns other reviewers that the author is harassing them.
- Other reviewers shelve the book ‘badly behaving author’ (or variation of) to remind themselves not to read or support that author.
- Author runs around crying they’re being bullied because people don’t want to read their books and their sales are suffering and everyone is mean to them and WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE AUTHOR’S FEELINGS?
Steps three to five have effectively been removed. A community has been torn asunder. The one defence reviewers have against badly behaving authors – a defence that is based around passive prevention, not actively fighting back (yes, the same link as above, twice – I’m making a point) – is gone.
It’s easy to say ‘if reviewers didn’t have those shelves, they wouldn’t be removed in the first place.’ It’s equally as easy to say ‘if authors would just fucking behave themselves and let readers have their own fucking opinions this never would have happened for fuck’s sake.’
Why is bad behaviour suddenly a secret?
One of my good friends had a shelf deleted because it said ‘due to author’. This could have meant anything. It could have meant ‘due to the author I’m now interested in learning more about flowers’ or ‘due to the author saving my life I’m going to read all their books’ or even ‘due to the author’s support of free speech I feel comfortable reviewing their books’. Yes, equally it could mean ‘I’m not going to read this book due to the author’s behaviour where they attacked/harassed/doxxed myself or a friend or really any reviewer ever because really THAT SHIT IS UNACCEPTABLE’.
If authors behave like toddlers, they will get treated like toddlers.
Goodreads has left ‘awesome author’ and ‘supportive author’ shelves alone. However, at the time of publication, they have not yet deleted ‘author is desperate for publicity’. They deleted a ‘badly behaving authors’ list but they also appear to have deleted an ‘authors behaving beautifully’ list* (this is speculation, I do not know whether Goodreads deleted this, or the list creator).
I’m absolutely furious because I primarily use Goodreads as a cataloguing system to help with my book blog. It’s clean, easy to use, and for a data nerd like me I can find lists full of anything I want within my own ‘My books’ section. Sometimes I go there just to look at all the books I’m yet to read, and sigh, and daydream about the future where I expect to magically have more time to read. I can have customisable shelves for anything I want. I have shelves based on year of publication, year I read the book, shelves dedicated to publishers, shelves dedicated to genre, shelves dedicated to where I plan to buy the books…
According to Goodreads, if I name any of my shelves the wrong thing, I’ll get a warning, and if I don’t act quickly, it will be deleted and my account will come under review.
My creativity, which Goodreads itself has encouraged, may in fact be to blame for any shelf deletion that may occur.
Now, I’ve deliberately stayed under the radar and review anonymously because of reasons. I’ve used my own personal code for my shelves, such as ‘help help I’m being repressed’. Wanna take a guess what that means? DO I THINK THE AUTHOR IS REPRESSING ME? Have I named it thus because of the author’s behaviour?
It’s my code for dystopian books. But now it’s at risk of deletion because apparently Goodreads thinks it knows my intention behind my shelves. It thinks it can find the signified behind the signifier. But it’s a lot more complicated than that.
Is my ‘first world problems’ shelf at risk? It might be about the author being butthurt over a review (it’s not). You know, that is pretty ‘first world problems’ when you think about it. What about my ‘awesome author’ or ‘indie author is made of awesome’ shelves? Is my ‘maybe’ shelf at risk? Because, you know, it’s not entirely positive.
Is someone going to be offended because I shelve their books as ‘the tempest of my eyes’? Wanna know what that means? It means I once studied Shakespeare:
How now, my love? Why is your cheek so pale?
How chance the roses there do fade so fast?
Belike for want of rain, which I could well
Beteem them from the tempest of my eyes.
Will someone who has never studied Shakespeare and doesn’t know what that rather ambiguous shelf means delete it because it could be interpreted in some way as bullying the author? if you need help translating, go here.
My sci-fi shelf starring extra-terrestrial life is called ‘aliens yo they’re among us’. Does this mean I think the author is an alien? IT COULD MEAN THAT. But you know what, Goodreads? It’s none of your freaking business what my shelves MEAN, only what they SAY. I wasn’t aware you hired psychics to know my intentions.
For the record, I visited a psychic once. She told me my pregnant cousin was going to have a girl (she had 2 boys), that my dad will develop his relationship with my cousin’s husband through fishing (neither of them have a fishing licence), and that I would find work in TV near a river (I work in IT in a city). I don’t remember the rest because it was clearly bullshit. Let’s hope your psychics are better than mine.
I want to know how Goodreads is tracking these unacceptable shelves. Are they being flagged, and by whom? (Authors? reviewers?) Who makes the final decision on whether the shelf is referencing author behaviour? Are they tracking the shelves by looking at notorious and documented badly behaving authors’ books and deleting ones they don’t like or are unsure of? Or is Goodreads being fed a list of ‘bully’ reviewers and systematically investigating their shelves?
We, the readers, need transparency. We cannot afford to be silenced when we are already under attack.
I feel censored, and I feel these may be the next steps:
- DNF reviews are no longer allowed (if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all!)
- No ratings without reviews (like on Amazon)
- A mandatory minimum of five sentences in reviews (yep, saw this proposal once)
- No GIFs in reviews (they are ‘distracting’)
- Reviews face a limit of 300 words (as opposed to the roughly three and a half thousand words they give us now)
- Reviews criticising the writer’s technique are not allowed (yes, I have seen this proposed. Apparently it’s ‘mean’ to criticise whether an author can actually write or tell a story.)
- Reviewers are forced to answer a detailed quiz to prove they finished the book before leaving a review (yes, I actually witnessed this proposal from a butthurt author once)
- No negative reviews allowed. Only three stars and above.
- Reviewers need to write a book, have it hit a bestseller’s list, and have it peer reviewed before they can review others’ work (seems to be a popular proposal from other reviewers)
And thank you, Goodreads, for throwing years of literary theory out the window. I’m sure universities around the world are changing their curriculum after receiving notice that amateur reviewers are no longer allowed to reference the author outside of the book; that feminist theory, post-modern theory, and post-colonial theories (among others) are now defunct.
Most of the shelves being deleted do not rate and do not contain reviews. I personally find it incredibly useful to have my friends’ shelves available for me to see. When I go to a bookshop (because I still love books, even if there are some authors I won’t read) it is incredibly handy to check on my Goodreads phone app any author whose book piques my interest. If they have a shelf based on their bad behaviour, I can simply return the book and buy another. No harm done, no fuss whatsoever. I don’t want that author getting my money or support. Now I’m going to have to write a very long list of authors to avoid and keep it in my wallet.
One way to keep track of which authors you’re not going to read is to one star their book with no review and no shelves. Of course, there are authors who want to force reviewers to write a short review in the prevention of ‘one star flybys’ but you know what? I am so far beyond caring. I pride myself on limiting the number of one star ratings I gave out on Goodreads because I am an incredibly picky reader. One of the reasons I am so picky is because I refuse to read authors who harass reviewers. Goodreads was there to back up my book blog’s reputation. It was a very quick and easy way to see my stats for any potential publisher or author who might want me to review their books. It was also there for any other reader to see, in case they might start trusting my reviews because they have the same taste as I do. I have never ever rated a book one star without reading it, but this is actually (and strangely, now) not against Goodreads policy. It may be my only option to track authors I don’t want to read.
The sad thing? I’ve rated Aimee Carter’s second and third Goddess novels one star. This is because I thought they sucked ass, but I would love to read another book she puts out.
The one last thing I have to say is this: if this is all about sales, and it’s in Amazon’s best interest to attempt to sell as many units as possible regardless of customer satisfaction (often predicted by reading negative reviews) or how authors respond to reviews, and that’s why they want our community warnings removed, then the authors who are notoriously and documented as badly behaving probably expect their sales to skyrocket after this announcement. After all, it’s because of the ‘bullies’ that they aren’t selling any books. Isn’t that right? On the other hand, they like to laugh at us and say our efforts to ‘destroy their careers’ don’t work, and they’re selling fine anyway. It’s got nothing to do with the content of their book and all about their behaviour. Maybe if they just learned to take criticism this shitstorm would never have happened.